I have been much in the garden lately, enjoying some fine warm days. And I have been reflecting on how our garden has grown with us – and what solace it has given. But it has been hard work.
As I have written elsewhere, we inherited a garden that had been unloved, and grown wild. The grass was long; some of the fencing had come apart round the oil tank; and in the corner you might just glimpse the sad remains of the plastic shed that had been blown apart in storms.
The first chore was to mow the lawn. The garden was well-fenced in. This was useful while our cat Poe made her preliminary expeditions in her new territory, but meant we couldn’t see the view from the house.So the next task was to reduce the height of the fence. Then we could see the sea! After that we replaced the shed. This sounds an easy task, but was complicated by the fact that we were experiencing very strong winds at the time, and there was no way we could hold the large wood panels correctly in place with the wind blowing as it was. Everyday we checked the Met Office forecasts. A week later our opportunity came and we got the shed up.Sitting in those pots on the patio were the plants and seedlings we’d brought from our old Devon home. We now needed to make some flower beds in our new garden so we could give our much-travelled plants a new home.We started with a large bed in the corner of the garden….. and that’s when we realised how hard it was to dig this ground. Eventually we acquired a pick-axe.We learned that digging flower beds here involved removing all the earth, clay and stones and rubble from the proposed spot, sieving it, putting back a little bit of good earth and buying a lot of expensive compost and top soil to refill the hole!This is why it was such hard work.
One of our neighbours kindly showed us some pictures of the old farm steading when it was being converted into homes. This is our kitchen. That pile of rubble behind the kitchen is our garden. We further learned that our garden was where the tractor was usually parked. To keep the mud under control, the farmer regularly tipped hardcore and rubble on this spot. Aaaaagh!
Despite the hard work, we did finish the little beds beside the fence in time for our little seedlings to be transplanted there in the early spring.It felt such a triumph to sit out in early summer as we came to the end of our first year here.These little beds under the fence were still very empty, so we bought poppy and cornflower seeds. This was the result in high summer – just amazing. We added a conservatory. This has been a huge bonus for us in windy, colder Northumberland, meaning we can shelter ourselves and our more delicate plants.Stephen put a lot of care into making raised beds to grow our vegetables inIn a few years we had transformed the garden with the addition of water butts and three raised beds. And, of course, a greenhouse.This is the last garden bed Stephen dug. Judging by his expression, I think it is the last he is ever planning to dig.Suddenly it looked like a proper garden!And we got produce from the raised beds. Our first year carrots were a little curious.But last year we had these beautiful courgettes …and tomatoes …and chilli peppers too.I cannot believe that we now have what looks like a proper garden! There is still often work to do.The garden is now showing us that it has a mind of its own. How silly of me to think it is our garden. Of course, it isn’t! It belongs to the place itself …
Self-sown poppy seedlings are growing round and through our bench …and in our raised veg beds …and in the lane …Never mind, Poe can still do the fence walk …and she can still find the bird water when she’s thirsty.As for Stephen and me, – well, we’re happy so long as we can still see the view.What we have tried to do, is build a garden where the plants we grow merge into the natural grasses of the fields around us.
The essayist, Francis Bacon, was surely right when he wrote that “…[a garden] is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handyworks.”How lucky we are to have a garden for solace, beauty, abundance – and hopefully a lot less hard work!